If you chance upon a bird's nest, in any tree or on the ground, with fledglings or eggs, and the mother is sitting over the fledglings or on the eggs, do not take the mother together with her young. Let the mother go and take only the young... (Deuteronomy 22:6)

Nachmanides writes that, on the most basic level, the reason for this mitzvah is to teach us compassion.

Taking the child within the sight of the mother would cause the mother acute pain. A mother's love and compassion for her offspring is, in Maimonides' words, "not a function of the intellect or speech, but a function of the thought process that exists in animals as well as in people."

By performing this mitzvah, we are training ourselves to feel empathy for all G‑d's creations.

According to the Zohar, this commandment also has a profound cosmic impact by arousing heavenly mercy for the Jewish people.

When the mother bird is driven from her nest, she cries bitterly and despairingly over her separation from her young. The angel appointed over this species appears before the heavenly throne and complains: "Merciful One, why has Your Torah ordered such a callous act?"

The angels designated over the other bird species take up the protest, objecting to their birds meeting the same fate.

G‑d then reprimands all the heavenly hosts: "The angels in charge of the birds complain against the birds' plight. But why has none of you expressed concern over the anguish of My sons and the Shechinah (Divine Presence)?

"The Shechinah is exiled. She is alienated from Her nest and home, the Holy Temple. My sons, the fledglings, dwell alone among their enemies, the nations of the world. But none among you cry out to arouse My compassion for them!

"For My own sake, then, I will redeem them!"

The holy Zohar records a miraculous story, about a time when Divine compassion was aroused through this commandment.

Rabbi Elazar, the son of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, was walking with his colleagues when a dove appeared. The dove informed Rabbi Elazar that his father-in-law, Rabbi Yosi, had fallen seriously ill.

Rabbi Elazar ordered the dove to assure Rabbi Yosi that in three days he would miraculously recover, and Rabbi Elazar and his colleagues would then arrive at his home to celebrate.

Soon afterwards, the distressed dove returned to inform them that since Rabbi Elazar had annulled the heavenly decree hanging over his father-in-law, the angel of death had taken in his stead another Rabbi Yosi—Rabbi Yosi of Pekiyin.

Hearing this tragic news, Rabbi Elazar decided to travel to Pekiyin to comfort Rabbi Yosi's family and to personally take part in the burial of this great sage.

Upon their arrival, the rabbis were informed that Rabbi Yosi was survived by a young son and daughter. Rabbi Yosi's wife, the mother of these two young children, had died a short time before, and these youngsters were now doubly orphaned.

In the room where the departed lay, the son would not allow anyone near his father's body. He laid his head close to his father's and wept bitterly and uncontrollably. Looking heavenward, he declared:

"Master of the Universe, You wrote in your holy Torah these words:

"'If you chance upon a bird's nest, in any tree or on the ground, with fledglings or eggs, and the mother is sitting over the fledglings or on the eggs, do not take the mother together with her young. Let the mother go and take only the young...'

"Master of the Universe! According to your holy Torah, we must let the mother live, and surely we must not take the mother and leave the children unattended.

"You, G‑d, must fulfill the words of Your holy Torah. My sister and I are two little birds. My mother has died, and so our father has taken her place to care for us.

"According to Your Torah, dear G‑d, You may take either me or my sister, but You may not take away my beloved father!"

Hearing the poignant plea of this innocent child, Rabbi Elazar's colleagues began to weep.

Suddenly, the room became silent, as a pillar of fire appeared, hovering over the bed of the departed. Everyone in the room ran out, and Rabbi Elazar's frightened colleagues wanted to do the same.

Rabbi Elazar calmed them, saying, "A great miracle is about to occur."

Out of the fiery pillar, a heavenly voice sounded: "Fortunate are you, Rabbi Yosi, to merit such a wise son, whose justified complaints split the gates of heaven, ascending before G‑d's Throne of Glory.

"A new verdict has been passed. You, Rabbi Yosi, will live twenty-two more years, in order to have the privilege of teaching this wise child."

Then, as suddenly as it had descended, the pillar disappeared; Rabbi Yosi's eyes fluttered open.

Rabbi Elazar exclaimed to his friends, "How fortunate are we to have witnessed with our own eyes the miracle of the dead coming to life!"

Rabbi Elazar then blessed Rabbi Yosi, "How fortunate are you to have experienced the miracle of the resurrection of the dead because of the wisdom of your young son!"

Meanwhile, the young child had fainted from the overwhelming events. When he awoke, it was impossible for him to fully express his elation, as he smothered his father with hugs and kisses.

Rabbi Elazar remained for three days to celebrate. During this time, he asked Rabbi Yosi to describe what he had observed in the heavens.

Rabbi Yosi replied, "I may not disclose to human ears what I have seen. I can only reveal that when my son was pleading, weeping, and protesting to G‑d from the depths of his being with utter sincerity, and he referred to the mitzvah of sending the mother bird away, three-hundred thousand heavenly chairs shook, as three-hundred thousand tzaddikim (righteous individuals) stood up in the heavens, begging G‑d to return me to the living!"

The cry of one earnest, sincere, orphaned child who longed to be rejoined with his father, the tender voice of the young son of Rabbi Yosi of Pekiyin broke through the heavens and stormed directly to the Throne of Glory to perform an unexpected miracle.

The earnest, sincere cry of each of us, G‑d's orphaned children, can ascend to the very heavens and bring upon us the promised Era of Redemption. And then,

we will no longer experience the orphaned child's cries or exile's harsh pains, as the good in all of creation will become openly revealed.